Home & Car Care Products Maker Puts ERP/EDI Reporting & More on Cruise Control with AutoMate
Rick Borst, Information Services Manager
For home and car care products manufacturer Mallory Industries, the road to low-cost automation of everyday business processes began with the deployment of a new ERP system at the company's two plants in the U.S. and Canada. Twenty-four daily ERP reports needed to be produced from the two locations and merged into a custom-built reporting application, requiring four hours of hands-on IT work every day. IT supervisors liberated staff members from that assignment by turning the job over to AutoMate Professional, a drag-and-drop business process automation solution from Network Automation. Since then, the company has 'AutoMate'-d a total of 44 different functions - ranging from EDI data dissemination to variance reporting, database monitoring and beyond - without expensive custom programming. Putting AutoMate in the driver's seat is saving Mallory more than 25 hours of paperwork per week and in at least one instance averted a server crash by alerting the IT team to data overload.
When Mallory replaced its legacy enterprise software with ERP VISUAL from Lilly Software (now Infor ERP VISUAL) in 2000, separate packages were installed at the company's Blenheim, Ontario headquarters southwest of Toronto and at its U.S. factory in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Having two instances of the software essentially doubled the time required to compile daily reports as well as to perform daily maintenance chores.
One problem was that 12 operational reports had to be manually generated from each site at the close of each business day, transmitted to Mallory's purpose-built reporting application, and combined in that application to give managers a single view of business metrics on issues such as production planning, accounts receivable and sales forecasts. In addition, several resource-intensive VISUAL system maintenance utilities had to be run every night. Together, these jobs took two people at least two hours each - one person in Canada and one in the U.S.
Mallory briefly considered eliminating this daily IT drive time by hiring a programmer to write automation routines but immediately rejected that option. "We were just coming off our VISUAL implementations and we knew how much custom programming would cost and how much time it would take," said Rick Borst, Mallory's Information Services Manager. "If we were going to automate, we needed to follow a different path."
Borst found that path in an online ERP VISUAL users group. There he discovered that other companies were solving similar problems for less than the cost of an average car transmission by using AutoMate software to create automation sequences with no coding or scripting. A technician simply lists the keystrokes required to perform a given task or selects from a menu of pre-programmed actions such as Move, Add and Delete. The software then executes the task by following those keystrokes and/or actions in the proper order to simulate user input.
First, Borst configured AutoMate to run Mallory's 24 daily ERP reports at both company sites and automatically populate the company's homegrown reporting application. The reports were generated consecutively without manual intervention, but in the beginning IT staff members at each location had to manually launch the operation each night because they had to choose which reports to run based on the time of the month. Borst soon automated that process as well by using AutoMate's support for Visual BASIC for Applications (VBA)-compatible scripting to trigger different tasks based on the date or the size of a given file. (The later in the month, the more daily data and the larger the file.)
Not long after that, the company put AutoMate behind the wheel to assist in exchanging data between its ERP and EDI systems. Eight times a day beginning at 5 am, for example, AutoMate launches a utility that turns raw EDI data into a flat file for importing into the VISUAL database in the Ontario office. AutoMate also sends U.S.-bound EDI data from its Ontario-based EDI translator to a server in Nebraska for insertion into the local VISUAL database; changes the default printer to send purchase order reports to the Nebraska plant; and triggers audit reports to pinpoint trouble spots such as missed incoming purchase orders and undelivered outbound invoices.
Today, AutoMate drives a variety of other processes for Mallory as well. The software now triggers weekly sales reports that used to require one hour of manual compilation per week. It launches reports that show low U.S. stock on items sold in Canada and vice versa, providing an early warning system that was previously unavailable because of Mallory's two separate ERP installations. It checks the sizes of nine different databases on a weekly basis and sends the information to Borst for troubleshooting. And so on.
With 44 functions now on AutoMate-based cruise control, Mallory is getting plenty of mileage out of the software package.
Saving 25 hours or more in weekly busywork is a key advantage that has also avoided adding IT staff. The ability to route EDI data from Ontario to Nebraska has eliminated the need to buy a second EDI translator for Mallory's U.S. location. Every report generated with AutoMate's aid has helped shape business decisions, identify operational areas of concern, save money, or produce other benefits. Four times a day, for example, AutoMate checks to be sure that advance shipment notifications have been processed by Mallory's EDI translator to avoid customer fines for failing to comply with transactional deadlines.
AutoMate has saved the day in other ways as well. Consider the case of a database that exploded in size in a single week, apparently because of corruption. "We were on the verge of running out of disk space," Borst recalled. "Without AutoMate, we wouldn't have known about it and our Exchange server would have gone down."
Most importantly, all 44 processes now assigned to AutoMate have been automated without writing a single line of code, delivering big benefits at exceptionally small cost.
"IT managers are challenged to cost-justify every expenditure. If you can find a product or service that has measurable ROI within a quarter, you're probably going to get approval to do it," Borst noted. "We saw a return on investment within a month after deploying AutoMate, and it's only gotten better over time." Just like a vintage car.